How Meaningful Relationships Help Combat Depression

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

How do meaningful relationships help prevent loneliness and depression? Why does the collective lifestyle of Amish communities help members avoid loneliness and depression?

Meaningful relationships restore us to our natural states as social animals living in close-knit societies. This prevents loneliness and provides a support group that can help you heal from depression. Amish communities share everything and everyone is regarded as family. This style of collective living creates a connected community and drastically reduces the risk of depression.

Read on to learn more about how meaningful relationships help prevent depression.

Build Meaningful Relationships

In an increasingly digital world, many of our connections are superficial and don’t allow for meaningful relationships, leading to loneliness and, ultimately, depression. To heal that depression, we need to build genuine, meaningful relationships based on vulnerability and mutual support that restore us to our natural, healthy state as social animals living in close-knit communities. 

Self-Care vs. Communal Care

One way to build meaningful relationships and benefit from the healing power of connection is to engage in communal care: helping others around us, and receiving help ourselves in turn. Right now, the fatal flaw in depression treatment is that, as a society, we think of it as an individual endeavor. If you’re sick, you go to a doctor who gives you pills that make you better—nobody else needs to be involved. But as we’ve seen, depression is not just an individual issue. The societal structures that got us into this mess weren’t created by one person, and it will take a communal effort to reshape them into something new and soothe our collective depression. 

The idea that depression is a personal issue that should be dealt with alone is a symptom of Western individualist values. Western culture values individual liberty over collective health—if you’re struggling, it’s your own fault; if you want to get better, it’s your own responsibility. We see happiness as an individual thing, so we address it on an individual level. We engage in “self-care” and read books from the “self-help” section—and we’re still miserable. 

That’s a direct contrast to Asian collectivist cultures that value the wellbeing of the community over the wellbeing of particular individuals. Success and failure are shared with the group—when one person struggles, everyone struggles, and when the group succeeds, everyone succeeds. That’s why, in Asian countries, if you set out to make yourself happy, you’ll most likely engage in communal care because you see your happiness as intrinsically tied to the happiness of your community. You’ll focus on making life better for other people, knowing that increasing their happiness will ultimately increase your own. 

Collectivist approaches to depression actually work. Focusing on building meaningful relationships forces your attention out of your own head and creates the mental breathing room you need to genuinely connect with a community. Depression creates an ego-centric worldview—you’re unhappy, you don’t feel good enough, you’re not getting what you need—so countering that narrative by focusing on the group is more powerful than looking for a quick fix on your own. 

Case Study: Amish Communities

When it comes to resisting the pull of individualism and embracing collective living, we can learn a lot from the Amish. In Amish communities, everything is shared. Unrelated neighbors consider each other “family,” and every adult takes responsibility for helping to raise children in the community. People don’t see their family’s house as “home” because the entire community is “home.” That’s the main reason the Amish eschew modern transportation—not using cars means they are always “at home,” or close to it, because home is an entire community contained within the circle of how far you can travel by horse and buggy. 

What makes Amish people especially unique is that they have freely and consciously chosen to give up modern convenience in order to focus on their community. All Amish young people leave the community for two years to go on Rumspringa, where they live in modern cities and are free to use technology, drink alcohol, and fully experience the wider world. At the end of this period, they can choose whether to rejoin their home community. Those who decide to maintain the Amish lifestyle do so because to them, the novelty of the modern world is a distraction from what really matters—a fully connected community. 

Obviously, the Amish way of life is an extreme approach, and not one that can or should be used on a grand scale. It also has serious downsides, like the entrenched sexism and homophobia in Amish communities. However, studying Amish collectivism still offers valuable lessons—lessons that can be applied in communities that look nothing like Amish farmland, like the Kotti neighborhood in Germany.

How Meaningful Relationships Help Combat Depression

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Johann Hari's "Lost Connections" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Lost Connections summary:

  • The psychological and social factors that contribute to mental illness
  • The history of antidepressants and the science behind them
  • Why Amish people hardly ever get depressed

Joseph Adebisi

Joseph has had a lifelong obsession with reading and acquiring new knowledge. He reads and writes for a living, and reads some more when he is supposedly taking a break from work. The first literature he read as a kid were Shakespeare's plays. Not surprisingly, he barely understood any of it. His favorite fiction authors are Tom Clancy, Ted Bell, and John Grisham. His preferred non-fiction genres are history, philosophy, business & economics, and instructional guides.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *